The tiny green sprig’s association with romance has a long history.
If you’ve ever found yourself standing underneath the evergreen parasitic plant commonly known as mistletoe, chances are some handsome Southern gent felt inclined to plant a big ol’ smooch on your lips (or cheek). However, this customary winter tradition isn’t some new, trendy way to show affection. Quite the contrary, as the mistletoe’s roots run deeper than the tree bark it’s firmly attached to, and its history dates all the way back to the first century A.D.
So before you pucker up at a party this holiday season, you should know just how the oft-used doorway decoration became synonymous with Yuletide kissing.
According to historians, mistletoe was revered long before it made its annual appearance each December throughout homes across the country. It was first held sacred by the Celtic Druids. They viewed mistletoe as a mythical and magical plant because it continued to remain green while other pecan, hickory, and oak trees (from which it grew) would lose their leaves during winter. But the obsession didn’t stop with the Druids. Mistletoe also played an integral part in ancient Greek and Nordic folklore, where it was widely believed that the plant possessed healing powers to keep people safe from harm. Europeans hung it in their doorways to ward off evil spirits and demons and above the stable doors to protect the horses and cattle. In Sweden and Italy, mistletoe was usually kept in the house to prevent fire. Because of its vibrant greenery, some historians even argue that early Christians believed the mistletoe symbolized fertility and conception.
We'll save you the in-depth history lesson since the kissing part is what you really want to know about. Well, from the Middle Ages onward is when mistletoe began to take shape as the plant associated with kissing—not just for goodwill or vitality. It wasn’t until the 16th century that lip-locking underneath the mistletoe was recognized as an actual form of reverence in England.
The rules back then were simple: A man would pluck one berry while kissing a young lady on the cheek. Each berry accounted for one kiss. When all the berries were plucked from the mistletoe, the smoochfest would end. If the young lady remained unkissed or refused the kiss, it was assumed that she wouldn’t receive any marriage proposals in the following year. The tradition eventually died down in England. But, fortunately, the Victorians resurrected it from obscurity around the 19th century. There was just one notable difference, though. Kissing balls or kissing boughs were used instead of the actual mistletoe plant.
The kissing bough was a Tudor-style Christmas decoration that somewhat resembled a wreath or floral swag. Typically decorated with apples and greenery, such as holly, mistletoe, and ivy, the kissing bough would be suspended in the entryway of homes. Single women would stand or dance underneath it waiting for a potential suitor to give them a peck on the cheek. Today, the ritual has evolved into a woman or man holding a single sprig of mistletoe over his or her head, expecting a kiss in return. Understandably so, the berry-plucking part has fallen by the wayside over the years, since most people prefer to keep kissing, despite how many berries are left.
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If you’re fond of tradition, why not bring some greenery, holiday cheer, and a little sweetness to your doorway this holiday season? Who knows? You just may attract good luck, a handsome suitor, and a kiss (or two) this Christmas.